Tales from Afghanistan: Cricket and Cruel Justice
A court in Afghanistan has confirmed an earlier decision to send a student, Sayed Pervez Kambaksh, to prison for 20 years for circulating “an essay on women’s rights which questioned verses in the Koran”. Kambaksh was originally going to be executed, but last October the sentence was commuted to imprisonment. It now seems certain that the prison term will stand, over the objections of Western diplomats, unless President Hamid Karzai decides to issue a pardon.
At times like this it’s important to remember that Canada is in Afghanistan to stabilise the country, not to reinvent it. Blasphemy laws may seem deplorable from our perspective, but ultimately the Afghans themselves will decide what role Islam should play in their justice system. Nevertheless, Canadian soldiers are dying in Afghanistan, and it would be easier to accept the costs of the mission – both human and financial – if we felt that Afghans were people we could like and admire. Episodes like the prosecution of Kambaksh make this rather more difficult, at least for me.
Fortunately, there’s another side to the story. The Independent gave Kambaksh’s brother, the reporter Yaqub Ibrahimi, the opportunity to publish his feelings on the case. Ibrahimi made a point of mentioning the widespread support for Kambaksh within Afghanistan, referring to “protests in 15 provinces in a single day”. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) has on its website a characteristically feisty statement condemning “the dark-minded and ignorant judges in the mediaeval courts of Afghanistan” and incidentally claiming that the whole case was partly an act of retaliation by people who felt threatened by some of Ibrahimi’s journalism. There’s clearly much more to Afghan culture than vicious Islamic fundamentalism.
As one illustration of this, I came across a Times article on Afghanistan’s national cricket team. It’s perhaps surprising that the team exists at all, but the amazing part is that they’re actually very good. When the Times profile went to press in January, they were in Argentina for some kind of preliminary qualifying event – you’ll have to excuse the lack of technical vocabulary – for the 2011 World Cup. A victory over the Cayman Islands booked them a trip to South Africa, where the final qualifying round will take place in April. They’ll be competing against eleven other nations, incidentally including Canada, for one of four available places at the World Cup.
Although I’m curmudgeonly about almost all sports, even I can see that the cricket team is one of Afghanistan’s unambiguous successes, and it doesn’t surprise me that it’s become a focus of national pride. Perhaps Canada can demonstrate its friendship for Afghanistan by finding, among the billions of dollars we’re spending on the Afghan mission as a whole, some money to help improve the rudimentary facilities in Kabul. At the very least I hope that our ambassador, Ron Hoffman, has been congratulating the team on its successes. But in case he hasn’t… Congratulations, Afghanistan. And we’ll see you in South Africa.